Nathaniel Mackey Awarded 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize

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Award recognizes lifetime accomplishment with $100,000 prize

May 6, 2014

The Poetry Foundation is honored to announce the winners of two poetry awards. The 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which honors a living U.S. poet for outstanding lifetime achievement, is awarded to Nathaniel Mackey; and the Foundation’s first annual Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, a prize for book-length works of criticism, goes to University of California Press for two books in their Collected Writings of Robert Duncan series: Robert Duncan: The Collected Later Poems and Plays, edited by Peter Quartermain, and Robert Duncan: Collected Essays and Other Prose, edited by James Maynard.  Both books were published in 2014.

Presented annually to a living U.S. poet whose lifetime accomplishments warrant extraordinary recognition, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize is one of the most prestigious awards given to American poets. At $100,000, it is also one of the nation’s largest literary prizes. Established in 1986, the prize is sponsored and administered by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It will be presented, along with the first annual Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, at a ceremony at the Poetry Foundation on Monday, June 9.

“The poetry of Nathaniel Mackey continues an American bardic line that unfolds from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to H.D.’s Trilogy to Olson’s Maximus poems, winds through the whole of Robert Duncan’s work and extends beyond all of these,” says Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine. “In his poems, but also in his genre-defying serial novel (which has no beginning or end) and in his multifaceted critical writing, Mackey’s words always go where music goes: a brilliant and major accomplishment.”

Born in Miami and raised in Southern California, Nathaniel Mackey received his BA from Princeton University and his PhD from Stanford University. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, including the National Book Award-winning Splay Anthem (2006) and Eroding Witness (1985), which was chosen for the National Poetry Series. Mackey has published several book-length installments of his ongoing prose work From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, beginning with Bedouin Hornbook in 1986. The fourth volume in this series, Bass Cathedral (2007), also won a National Book Award. From 2001 to 2007, he served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Mackey taught for many years at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is currently the Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing at Duke University.

"This is an exciting and propitious moment at the Poetry Foundation," says Foundation president Robert Polito. "Nathaniel Mackey’s ongoing serial projects in poetry and prose over the past three-and-a-half decades array among the great wonders of our literary moment. But as passionately as the Poetry Foundation supports the work of poets, we also wish to encourage a dynamic conversation about and around poetry. University of California Press merits much fanfare for their expert and elegant sequence of the collected writings of Robert Duncan. We hope readers will also investigate the other smart, stylish, and lively books of poetry criticism celebrated among our finalists and honorable mentions." 

In recognition of Mackey’s achievements, poetryfoundation.org is featuring him in a podcast, an interview and audio recordings of his poems. The Foundation’s site currently includes poems from his newest book, Nod House (New Directions, 2011).

The annual Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism honors the best book-length works of criticism, including biographies, essay collections and critical editions that consider the subject of poetry or poets. The winner of this award, University of California Press, will receive $7,500. Five finalists will receive $1,000 each, and six honorable mentions will also be celebrated at the June 9 award ceremony.

The 2014 award goes to Robert Duncan: The Collected Later Poems and Plays and Robert Duncan: Collected Essays and Other Prose. Part of a series called The Collected Writings of Robert Duncan, the books were edited by Peter Quartermain and James Maynard respectively, and published by University of California Press in 2014.

Robert Duncan has become a central figure in our understanding of 20th-century American poetics. These two critical editions represent a major achievement in textual scholarship, bringing together Duncan’s authoritative texts and unpublished works. The result is an extraordinary look into the development and evolution of his distinct and groundbreaking poetics. Editors Peter Quartermain and James Maynard deftly navigate Duncan’s textual complexities while providing extensive notes, annotations and commentaries on the poet’s career and works.

Finalists

Collected French Translations: Poetry and Collected French Translations: Prose, by John Ashbery. Edited by Eugene Richie and Rosanne Wasserman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014.

Spanning such stalwarts, mavericks and maverick-stalwarts as Arthur Rimbaud, Max Jacob, Raymond Roussel, Pierre Reverdy, Giorgio de Chirico, Paul Eluard, Georges Bataille and Pierre Martory, Collected French Translations: Poetry and Collected French Translations: Prose might comprise the honorable life’s work of almost any other energetic man of letters, as though John Ashbery weren’t also the author of more than 25 books of original poetry and prose. Instead, Ashbery’s French translations are a sort of cognate of his trailblazing Charles Eliot Norton lectures—yet another of his sly, masterly “other traditions,” here meticulously restored by co-editors Rosanne Wasserman and Eugene Richie, and stylishly presented (the cover includes details from the translator's own collages) by FSG.

The Gorgeous Nothings, by Emily Dickinson. Edited by Marta Werner and Jen Bervin. New Directions, 2013.

This visually astonishing compilation offers readers a sustained look at a lesser-known aspect of Emily Dickinson’s output: the poems she wrote on envelopes. Editors Marta Werner and Jen Bervin have reproduced, in facsimile form, this important aspect of Dickinson’s archive, suggesting that the poet’s thought was shaped by the paper she wrote on and inflected by her idiosyncrasies of handwriting. The Gorgeous Nothings contains perceptive essays by Werner, Bervin and Susan Howe, asking us to reconsider the relationship between a poem and the scene of its initial creation in manuscript form; they also encourage us to rethink our assumptions about what constitutes a “finished” poem. The collection offers nonspecialist readers unprecedented access to these manuscripts as well as a valuable introduction to the most pertinent issues in Dickinson manuscript scholarship today.

Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore, by Linda Leavell. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

The first biographer to have unrestricted access to Marianne Moore’s family archive, Linda Leavell paints a fuller picture than readers have previously had of the poet’s famously close relationship with her mother, her early connections to American modernists, and how these influences shaped her highly original work. Deftly interweaving biographical details with her poems, Holding On Upside Down is the engaging and illuminating biography that Moore has long deserved. 

ARK, by Ronald Johnson. Flood Editions, 2013.

Ronald Johnson’s ARK, a modern American poetry classic, was long out of print until Flood Editions published Peter O’Leary’s diligently corrected and beautifully designed text last year. By restoring the poem and publishing it in an appealing and affordable volume, this groundbreaking work is now, for the first time, widely available for readers in an edition that does it full justice.

The Virtues of Poetry, by James Longenbach. Graywolf, 2013.

The Virtues of Poetry casts a powerful, expanding light, not only on Dickinson, Whitman, Pound, Bishop and the other writers at hand, but also on poetry at large. James Longenbach is that rare critic whose close readings unite understanding, imagination, knowledge and brilliant sensory perceptions so that particulars have a transcendent quality—like the virtues of his title. “The best poems ever written constitute our future,” he writes in his preface, and these subtle yet bold essays deeply engage the reader in that past and in that future.

Honorable Mentions

A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting, by Richard Burton. Prospecta, 2014.

Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English, 1500–2001, edited by Carolyn Forché and Duncan Wu. W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia, by Philip Lamantia. Edited by Garrett Caples, Nancy Joyce Peters and Andrew Joron. University of California, 2013.

Lake Superior, by Lorine Niedecker. Edited by Joshua Beckman. Wave Books, 2013.

My Silver Planet: A Secret History of Poetry and Kitsch, by Daniel Tiffany. Johns Hopkins University, 2014.

Thinking Its Presence: Form, Race, and Subjectivity in Contemporary Asian American Poetry, by Dorothy Wang. Stanford, 2014.

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 About the Poetry Foundation

The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs. For more information, please visit poetryfoundation.org.

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